Karnatic Etudes


Two big twentieth century studies of Carnatic scales by Western composers are now available in full on YouTube. If nothing else, I think we Western musicians can benefit from hearing these scales "in our own accent" rather than solely in the context of South Indian music. They also prove that these "exotic" scales can make excellent music in a Western style, in case that still needs to be proved to anyone.

The first is a very generous playlist of the entire 2CD collection of Eugene Bozza's music for solo flute, which includes his ten studies in Carnatic modes. Bozza writes pretty, frilly, fancy music that's rather reminiscent of Debussy. This is the first one:

I don't know which scales are used in which pieces, although I guess the sheet music ought to have notes to that effect. Weirdly, editions of these studies for different instruments sometimes have 11 studies, sometimes 10; I'm not sure why. I haven't had sight of any of them but if I feel brave at some point I might pick up the clarinet edition and try one or two of them on guitar. They sound pretty hard though.

In a slightly different mood, we also have a complete recording of Jacques Charpentier's 72 √Čtudes Karnatiques, which took him 28 years to compose and take nearly as long to play (just kidding). Messiaen-like sounds here, sometimes a bit overbearing and abrasive because of the "etude" format but always interesting. And he has a study for every single Carnatic scale, although some are very short. Here's the whole thing:

There are some very tasty chords to be stolen from this one, at the very least.